At the time when it was written, however, the Constitution was a radical departure from the autocratic governments of the 18th century. Since it was something so new and different, the reasons for the Constitution's provisions were spelled out in "The Federalist," a book written by three of the writers of the Constitution, as a sort of instruction guide to a new product.
The Constitution was not only a challenge to the despotic governments of its time, it has been a continuing challenge — to this day — to all those who think that ordinary people should be ruled by their betters, whether an elite of blood, or of books or of whatever else gives people a puffed-up sense of importance.
While the kings of old have faded into the mists of history, the principle of the divine rights of kings to impose whatever they wish on the masses lives on today in the rampaging presumptions of those who consider themselves anointed to impose their notions on others.
The Constitution of the United States is the biggest single obstacle to the carrying out of such rampaging presumptions, so it is not surprising that those with such presumptions have led the way in denigrating, undermining and evading the Constitution.
While various political leaders have, over the centuries, done things that violated either the spirit or the letter of the Constitution, few dared to openly say that the Constitution was wrong and that what they wanted was right.
It was the Progressives of a hundred years ago who began saying that the Constitution needed to be subordinated to whatever they chose to call "the needs of the times." Nor were they content to say that the Constitution needed more Amendments, for that would have meant that the much disdained masses would have something to say about whether, or what kind, of Amendments were needed.
The agenda then, as now, has been for our betters to decide among themselves which Constitutional safeguards against arbitrary government power should be disregarded, in the name of meeting "the needs of the times" — as they choose to define those needs.
The first open attack on the Constitution by a President of the United States was made by our only president with a Ph.D., Woodrow Wilson. Virtually all the arguments as to why judges should not take the Constitution as meaning what its words plainly say, but "interpret" it to mean whatever it ought to mean, in order to meet "the needs of the times," were made by Woodrow Wilson.
It is no coincidence that those who imagine themselves so much wiser and nobler than the rest of us should be in the forefront of those who seek to erode Constitutional restrictions on the arbitrary powers of government. How can our betters impose their superior wisdom and virtue on us, when the Constitution gets in the way at every turn, with all its provisions to safeguard a system based on a self-governing people?
Now there is leaked news of plans to change the immigration laws by administrative fiat, rather than Congressional legislation, presumably because Congress might be unduly influenced by those pesky voters — with their Constitutional rights — who have shown clearly that they do not want amnesty and open borders, despite however much our betters do. If the Obama administration gets away with this, and can add a few million illegals to the voting rolls in time for the 2012 elections, that can mean reelection, and with it a continuing and accelerating dismantling of America.
Thomas Sowell graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University (1958) and went on to receive his master's in economics from Columbia University (1959) and a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago (1968). He is the author of 28 books including his most recent, Intellectuals and Society. Currently he is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.
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